Three years ago in 2018, Stefanos Tsitsipas reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers. On Saturday, the third seed will be aiming to return to the championship match once again in Toronto, but it won’t be easy as he faces big-serving American Reilly Opelka in the semi-finals.
The Greek earned four Top 10 wins en route to the final in his breakthrough run in 2018, defeating Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson before suffering defeat to Rafael Nadal.
Armed with far more experience today, Tsitsipas has enjoyed a stellar season this year. The 23-year-old has recorded a tour-leading 45 victories, capturing two ATP Tour titles, including his maiden Masters 1000 crown in Monte-Carlo. As a result, Tsitsipas is currently in second place in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin. With his current success, expectations on the Athens native have been raised.
Speaking after his quarter-final victory over Casper Ruud, Tsitsipas said: “It comes, it’s obvious that you’re going to get that when you’re aiming high and you want to be among the best in the sport. I was prepared for it, and I was sort of experiencing it from a young age playing juniors, transitioning to the pros. It is something that you build [and] know how to deal better [with] over time.”
Tsitsipas, who climbed to a career-high No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday, is targeting a fifth tour-level hard-court trophy this week and eighth in total.
The World No. 32 Opelka will offer a different challenge to the one provided by Ruud. The American produced big-man tennis, hammering forehands and crushing serves in his quarter-final victory over 10th seed Roberto Bautista Agut on Friday.
It is the second time Opelka has reached the last four at a Masters 1000 event, having advanced to the semi-finals in Rome in May before falling to Rafael Nadal. The two-time tour-level titlist described his tennis as ‘flawless’ following his quarter-final victory but is aware he will have to raise his level further against Tsitsipas, whom he trails 1-0 to in their ATP Head2Head Series.
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“[Tsitsipas] has got a great serve,” Opelka said. “He has the best forehand in the world right now and he moves very well. It is very hard to find his backhand, he moves to the left to cover it. He hits forehands from every part of the court, is aggressive and competes well.”
Opelka, who believed things started to click in Rome this year, is thrilled with where his game is at currently, having won eight out of his last nine Masters 1000 matches.
“I remember in Rome when I was there, I was practising early,” Opelka said. “I got to Rome a little bit early and I was practising before the tournament started, off-site even, and my coach and I just kind of got down to business there. We set up our own shop, had a nice gym in the hotel. There was two red clay courts at the hotel.
”That’s kind of where I think a lot of things happened. There were one or two practices I remember in particular where things started to click. It doesn’t always work this way, but I got validation that week with the semi-final run, that the adjustments being made were the right ones.
“I’m just getting better. I’m getting a lot better. I think my forehand has improved a lot. Everything is improving. That’s kind of what’s fun. It means a lot to get another semi. I had a slow start to the year. It’s a long season, there is going to be some ups, downs. If I end up Top 20, great. That’s the goal. This is where ideally, I want to be. I want to be a top player. That means I’m making runs in Slams, Masters, I’m seeded, means I’m a threat, which I want.”
Medvedev v Isner
Daniil Medvedev is known for standing close to the back wall when returning serve. But he may need to alter that strategy in Saturday night’s semi-final against 6’ 10” American John Isner. When the players met for the only time at the 2020 ATP Cup, Medvedev built his comprehensive 6-3, 6-1 win on the back of four service breaks and by limiting Isner to just four aces.
“I remember playing John in an unbelievable match at ATP Cup [in 2020], because I broke him like five times, which will probably not happen all the time I play against him, and I was actually returning quite close to the baseline, trying to take time from him,” Medvedev said.
“I don’t [normally] really return on the baseline like some players, because I know that’s not my strongest part. Then it depends, it depends so much on conditions, balls you are playing with, opponent you are playing against. Today against Hubert, there were a few times I wanted to go really far back and I felt like, no, he’s giving me too much angle to play with, so I cannot even get to the ball. I felt like I need to be a little bit closer.
“Even tomorrow, there is chance I’m playing Isner, I have no idea right now where I’m gonna return, but I’m going to try to find it out during the match.”
Isner, who will take a nine-match winning streak into the match dating back to his sixth Atlanta title, said that he’ll be looking to come into the match with a different game plan.
“I didn’t fare too well in the ATP Cup in the only time I played him, so I’m going to have to change up some tactics. But I’m definitely playing better now than I was then,” Isner said. “He’s definitely going to do what he does. He’s full of confidence. He’s going to stand on the fence, he’s going to make a lot of returns, he’s going to run. He’s No. 2 in the world for a reason. I’m going to have to play well.”
Source: ATP World Tour